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DOJ urged to stay focused on police killings

Freddie Allen | 10/6/2014, 10:04 a.m. | Updated on 10/9/2014, 12:53 p.m.
Officials from the National Action Network, the National Urban League, the National Bar Association, the National Coalition on Black Civic ...
Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton speaks about Michael Brown, Eric Garner and police brutality during a press conference in Washington, D.C. Behind him stand Marc Morial and Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden. Freddie Allen

The project, funded with a $4.75 million grant, will also provide research and technical support to law enforcement officials and others who work in the criminal justice system.

Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and founder of the National Action Network, said that talking about sensitivity and training is good, before adding that you don’t need people who would choke a man when he says 11 times on tape, “I can’t breathe.”

He does not need training, Sharpton said. He needs to be held accountable.

Sharpton said that the coalition of civil rights groups and community stakeholders is not anti-police, and the group doesn’t believe that all police are bad.

“But acting as though that no police is wrong none of the time is moving this country towards a police state where we don’t have the right to question police under any circumstances,” Sharpton said.

Sharpton described a recent case in South Carolina where a state trooper shot an unarmed man.

On Sept. 4, just outside of Columbia, South Carolina, Sean Groubert, a South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper, pulled Levar Jones over allegedly for not wearing his seat belt. Groubert asked Jones to exit his vehicle then asked him for his driver’s license. As Jones reached back into his vehicle to retrieve his license, Groubert opened fire, striking Jones at least once. The incident was captured on Groubert’s dash-camera.

“Well, I raise this question to the Justice Department: If that police officer in South Carolina was arrested, why isn’t the police officer that shot Michael Brown arrested? Why isn’t the police officer that choked Eric Garner arrested?” Sharpton asked. “Does probable cause not work all the country? You don’t need a grand jury indictment to make arrest you need what you had in South Carolina. But what we seem to have is different strokes for different folks.”

Groubert was subsequently fired and arrested on charges of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, which could lead to his serving up to 20 years in prison.

Most law enforcement agencies have not been as decisive in South Carolina in handling wayward officers. Instead, there is an “intrinsic relationship” between local prosecutors and the local police that makes less likely that police officer will be prosecuted, Sharpton stated.

He said the federal government can play a key role in making sure justice is served.

“If you have the federal government, that does not depend on local police, you have a more objective and fair investigation,” Sharpton said. “It protects everyone.”

During the press conference, Michael Brown’s parents spoke briefly about the frustration they have felt in dealing with law enforcement officials in Missouri.

An emotional Leslie McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother, said, “Missouri has not shown us anything that we are looking for.”

The father, Michael Brown Sr., said, “This is very terrible for us and for everyone else that has lost. We’re here to get justice. We need your help.”

Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that within 12 hours of Michael Brown’s death, civil rights group were on the ground in Ferguson, Missouri, trying to keep peace while seeking justice in the community. Brooks said that the NAACP has worked with the Justice Department to locate witnesses.

“Where you have communities under siege, where you have communities that feel, based upon their experience and empirical evidence that they are in the midst of a pandemic of police misconduct, they have every reason to be afraid of coming forward,” Brooks said.

Brooks continued: “We want to honor these families with our service and commitment. [We will] see it to the very end.”